"How fast are we going?"
"I don't know."
I was rocketing north on I-5, somewhere past Kettleman City. The speedometer on the Cutlass was pegged, no place to go. I was guessing we were holding about 140 mph in that bomb. I tried moving faster, but the steering became suspiciously light when I did. Since I was slaloming through traffic at that speed, I preferred having a firm grip on the pavement. The big Cutlass tracked admirably, a machine born for the road. After a few more minutes I backed off to ninety, then eighty, then blended in with traffic. Instinct was telling me I'd get in trouble if I didn't, in the form of CHP busting me. My speeds and behavior would be sure to anger even the most sedate of patrolmen, and we had enough drugs in the car I didn't feel like being shaken down.
We were approaching Santa Nella when something began approaching fast from the rear. I signaled and moved over to let him past. Instead of passing me, he matched my speed and sat there at my side. It was a five-series BMW, new from the looks of it. He juiced his gas a couple times then started to cut into my lane. The driver was looking for a fight. I held steady in my lane, prepared to push back if he followed through on his threat to bump me. I figured I'd passed him while I was still running wide open, and he was offended by my very existence.
"Should I take him?" I asked the girls.
"Do it," came the answer from both. Jane scooted over on the back seat, rolled down the window and popped an arm out, giving him the finger. The BMW driver responded by blowing his horn and taking another swipe at me. I put my right foot to the floor and jumped in front of him, and the chase was on.
In theory he should have been able to take me. The BMW is designed for rolling on the Autobahn, with its high speeds and curves. If the road had been totally empty, he'd have blown me away. However, we had other traffic to contend with. I told Jane to put on a seat belt and hold on. This would be a test of driving skills, and who had the heavier balls.
We whipped through traffic like it was holding still. The BMW stayed glued to me for the first ninety seconds, then was presented with the choice of braking or eating the back of a tractor trailer. I kept my foot buried in the floorboard, feathering the throttle to maintain control. I knew where my fenders and bumpers were, and was willing to take more chances based on that knowledge. The BMW managed to close the gap again, mad as a wet hen. We blew through Patterson, too fast for me to even check the on-ramp for waiting CHP. At 130 mph, we were about evenly matched. He was more nervous than me, though, unwilling to grab gaps and make passes. We tore northwards.
By the time we hit the Modesto exit I'd put a quarter mile distance on him. I announced my need for a Mountain Dew. I backed off to about 95 and hit my signal, getting off at the Corral Hollow Road exit and aiming for the gas station located there. The BMW driver followed me. We both pulled into the lot of the convenience mart and everyone got out.
The driver of the BMW was a chubby guy in his mid-forties, wearing a British driving cap and gloves. Jane was right in his face, saying, "You wanna fuck with us? Fuck you, white boy, we play hard. And screw that Kraut iron you drive, too."
The BMW driver shied away from Jane as though she might pull a gun.... Which she was prepared to do, she had her hand in her pocket reaching for the tiny Beretta Bekka had loaned to her. He was none too happy to see me and Bekka, either: to him, we looked like thugs with a capital T. You could tell he was regretting his decision to follow us.
I got up next to Jane and put my hand on her arm, preventing her from pulling out her gun. "So what's your game, chief? You wanted a run for my money, and you got it. Where I'm from, you owe me a hundred dollars. If you want, I'll run this all the way to the Hopyard exit on 580, and I'll put up a grand for that. I can cover that, can you?"
He looked seriously nervous: two punks, one an obvious teenager, and a goth-looking girl bursting out of the 1971 Cutlass 442 he'd been pursuing. He said, "Look, I'm not looking for trouble...."
"Could've have fooled us," said Bekka. "We were minding our own business and you decided to fuck with us. How were you not looking for trouble?"
BMW Guy looked flustered. "Hey, you passed me at that speed, and I couldn't but help but take it as a challenge...."
"To what?" asked Jane. "Your iron or your dick? We ran past a lot of people, but you were the only one who took offense. What's your tale?"
He looked flustered. "Hey, I make this run all the time, heading for Silicon Valley. I'm used to covering it fast. Don't tell me you weren't looking for a challenge."
"Just a speed test," I responded. "This here is iron I've never really taken out for air, and I-5 seemed like the good place to do it. So what, you rule I-5? Is that what you're telling me?"
"What the hell are you driving, anyway?" asked BMW Man. What sort of souped-up hot rod is that?"
I chuckled at him. "That's a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442, tuned right. In all reality, it's as stock as the day it left the showroom. Four barrel Holley carb, stock. Double exhaust, stock. And I run an automatic transmission with optional overdrive, also stock. Never question American iron, we invented it. You, you're running a five-series BMW, presumably with a five-speed shifter in it. What prevented you from dropping to fourth and blowing us away?"
He faltered. "I, uh, I'm not used to driving like that. I'd be red-lining my engine if I tried to keep those speeds in fourth. What the hell are you used to, anyway?"
Bekka said, "He's used to driving with me and Jane in the car. We both get a sexual charge out of driving fast, so he's used to punching through traffic at high speed. It's a rush, even as a passenger."
BMW Guy got a wobbly smile on his face. "You all don't mess around, do you? Um, can I buy you a soda while we're here?" He stared briefly at Bekka. "Wait a minute, I recognize you. You're Becky Page, right?"
"In the flesh," replied Bekka. "And you are?"
"I'm Bob, Bob Gentry. What are you doing out here?"
Bekka stretched and said, "We're on our way to San Francisco to visit friends. And what are you up to, besides picking fights with strangers on the freeway?"
"Oh, I split my time between LA and Mountain View. It would really freak out a lot of my staff if they knew I was talking to you right now."
"Some of the guys had your posters up in their cubicles, and we got complaints from female staffers saying they were sexist and demeaning. We had to insist the posters come down."
"Were they posters or centerfolds?" I asked. "I could see somebody getting bugged by her Hustler or Gallery centerfolds, but I shot those poster photos myself, and we aimed for them to be tasteful."
"So even computer nerds are into Becky Page?" asked Jane.
"Oh, definitely," said Gentry. "I know this is a weird circumstance to meet under, but could I get your autograph? I'll really surprise some of my staffers with that."
"Give me something blank to write on," said Bekka. "I'm half tempted to show up where you work and give some women a lecture on the difference between sexuality and sexism."
Gentry got in his car and pulled a legal pad out of his briefcase. Bekka pulled a Sharpie out of her purse and wrote "Smut Is Fun! XXX Kisses, Becky Page" across a blank page. Gentry's face brightened measurably when he saw what she had written.
"Yes, this will make a lot of my staffers jealous. Now I can prove I met Becky Page on my drive up."
"So what do you do?" I asked.
Gentry said, "I'm in computer hardware. I work for a company called Intel. We produce the chips that make computers run."
I said, "Yes, I have an Apple Macintosh that runs on your hardware. So the Intel boys are into Becky Page, are they? Maybe we should show up and do a signing."
He laughed at this. "It would be held in the parking lot. Even our vendors for the cafeteria have to have a security clearance to get in the building. Our work is hush-hush, do you understand? There are too many people who would like to get their hands on our latest builds to let strangers wander around."
I cackled at this and said, "I can see where you're coming from. Like the bastards at the swap meets who sell pirated tapes, or counterfeit t-shirts. I can't stop them all, but I can put my thumb down on 'em. I've done it. They're pests, and they're stealing our money. It's not like they don't know where a seven dollar Becky Page t-shirt is coming from, either."
Bekka said, "You were gonna buy us sodas, right? I want a cherry Coke, this little girl wants a Jolt, twenty ounce, and the driver here wants a Mountain Dew, a big one. You go on in and buy us some sodas, we'll be out here abusing drugs."
He looked alarmed at this. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Just speed," I replied.
"What, like crank?"
"Call it what you want. Methamphetamine, speed, crank, crystal, whatever. You want a line?"
He backed away slightly. "Um, no thanks."
Jane giggled and said to Gentry, "Don't feel bad, I don't like the stuff either. But I'm high on Ecstasy right now, so I can't talk too much."
Bekka pointed out, "And Ecstasy is a complex amphetamine. You're still doing speed, it's just a really weird derivative of it. Don't worry, we'll be doing coke with Ivanka and Ginny when we get to their place."
Gentry stepped into the convenience mart while I quickly set up a couple lines on a cassette case. Bekka and I were finished before he returned. He handed out the drinks, a Diet Pepsi in his hand for himself. I asked him, "So what's the goal in microchip design?"
He considered and said, "Smaller, faster, and more powerful. Computers are going to get more compact, to the point of portability. Consider that the ENIAC computer was really just a complex calculator, and what it took a roomful of circuits and vacuum tubes to accomplish now fits onto a single chip. We're making strides. You could see a time when people having computers in their home will be the norm, not just a work tool."
I said, "Hell, I own two Apple Macintosh computers. One's at my work office, one's at my home office."
"What is it you do?" Gentry asked.
"I run a porn studio, Inana Productions. We're the ones that made all of Bekka's videos, including 'Bewitched.' I run huge amounts of the business on my Mac, and since I also write scripts, I carry the floppy discs with me so I can work at home. A portable computer sounds good to me, I could get work done while we're staying in the motel."
"Don't you dare!" said Bekka. "You're on vacation, pally, and the newest script is in Eddie The Jew's hands anyway. You're going to relax."
Gentry asked, "So how much work is involved in making, uh, adult video?"
Bekka and I laughed. "Plenty, no matter which side of the camera you're on," said Bekka. "These days you'd better not mind talking to lawyers. That's on top of all the other things involved with running a business. My life is simpler, but it's still work. Hell, Lenny here turned Inana from being just another small studio making jack loops into a multi-million dollar studio. 'Bewitched' really put us on the map. You know we shot the entire thing with two cameras and a crew of five, including the fluffer?"
"What's a fluffer?"
"The fluffer, or fluff girl, has the job of keeping male performers hard during cuts. Basically it's her job to suck on any naked man who stands in front of her. Most fluffers don't last long at it, since it can be humiliating work, and the money isn't all that great. Hell, we've had our fluffer for three years now, by some miracle."
"A couple reasons for that," I said. "First of all, Rita gets a good wage. And second, me, Angel, Vinny, and Rick always made it clear to everyone that she is to be respected. I've always emphasized to the male performers that I could replace any of them in a heartbeat, but finding another Rita would be tough. She's also our script girl, and has intelligence. She just feels like suckin' dick for a living."
"Just how well did 'Bewitched' do, anyway?" asked Gentry. "It's been something of a phenomenon, from what I've noticed. Like I said before, I'm gonna make some people sick when they find out I was hanging around with Becky Page."
"I don't have exact numbers, but worldwide sales of the tape is shy of eight million. That's for a movie that was released last June. That's an incredible number for an adult video, and for a video that has only been out six months. It continues to fly out of stores. We have three tape duplicators on contract, just to keep up with demand for our movies...."
"How many movies have you made?"
I chuckled. "I'm not gonna count loops, just features. Let's see, we got 'Lust Instructor,' 'Wedding Party,' 'Bad Babysitter,' 'Bewitched,' 'Rocker Girls,' and 'Dangerous Desires.' Those are all the ones I produced or executive produced and wrote. After 'Bewitched' hit big, sales of all the earlier stuff spiked upwards, and guaranteed that any video with the Inana logo on it would sell well. The wave created by the splash of 'Bewitched' hasn't broken yet, so we're still riding it."
Bekka said, "Keep in mind that the large studios run rings around us when it comes to releasing new material. VCA or Vivid or Hustler Video release features twelve times a year, and we release three. But like a fine vintner, our releases are the best. We're kind of a boutique operation. Yeah, we still release loops, but shooting features takes precedent. We're known as being this tiny powerhouse from San Diego that puts out the best adult features ever. We frustrate a lot of people. You make computer chips, right? Imagine if some tiny company started making a chip twice as powerful as yours, and after a bit of trouble was able to keep up with demand. That's what we did to a lot of people. We proved it's possible to make porn that people will actually enjoy watching as a movie. The two aren't mutually exclusive."
Gentry rubbed his chin. "So would you consider adult video to be a good long-term investment?"
Bekka and I laughed again. Bekka said, "I don't consider porn to be a good investment at all. The only advantage it has over any other form of entertainment as a way to make money is that people will buy the product even if it's low quality. But making smut is just as stressful and risky as making a Hollywood movie, with the added layer of lawyers thrown in."
"You mentioned lawyers before. Why do you have do deal with lawyers?"
I said, "Ah, that's thanks to a girl named Traci Lords. After three years in the business, she announced to the world that she had just turned eighteen. People went to jail, fortunes were lost, shit hit the fan. Now confirmation of your performer's age is a whole process, and lawyers keep a hold of the records. Anyone wanting to know Becky's real age and name could just go to Inana's lawyer and demand the information."
"Bekka Schneider, twenty-eight," said Bekka.
"Sir, we're going to cover the last bit of distance between here and The City, and check into our motel room. Remember, someone driving faster than you is not a personal challenge to you, until you make it one. Aren't you glad that we didn't just shoot at you?"
Gentry scoffed. "Shoot at me, huh? With what?"
The girls and I looked at each other, and we all pulled out our respective guns: my Beretta 92FS, Bekka's Colt Defender, and the tiny Beretta we'd loaned to Jane. We stood there and gave him a collective blank stare. He straightened up and muttered, "Holy Jesus."
We put our guns away. I said, "It's a dangerous world. I've been shot three times, Becky and I have been shot at on multiple occasions, she's also been stabbed, and Jane here has been kidnapped. We err on the side of caution around our place. But note that none of us threw down out of bad temper earlier. We're responsible owners. Drive carefully, sir."
The three of us got back in the Cutlass. Gentry gave a vague wave and got back in his BMW. I let him pull out first, fiddling with the stereo and putting the Reverend Horton Heat in the tape deck. Bekka pulled on her seat belt and said, "Typical California driver."
"How so?" asked Jane.
"Passive-aggressive. Takes every slight, real or imagined, as a personal affront. I wonder what he'd thought he would accomplish by following us off the freeway."
I cruised over the overpass to get back on the 580 extension. A CHP patrol car rolled off the freeway and gave me a beady glare as I waited to make the turn onto the ramp. I took it as an omen and behaved myself all the way into San Francisco.
We checked into our motel and stashed the bags. Bekka called Ivanka.
"Hey girl, we just got to the motel. When should we come by?... Okay, we'll take Jane up Telegraph Hill.... No, a cab. We know better than to try and park in your neighborhood.... Sounds good.... Okay, see you then."
Bekka hung up the phone. She said, "Ivanka is overjoyed we're here, and for us to be there around 5:30 so Ginny won't feel left out. I figured we'd take off from here around 4:30 so we could make a quick tourist stop with Jane, hiking up Telegraph Hill. I'll call a cab company and set up a timed pickup. Who did we use last time we were here?"
"Luxor," I replied. "Their drivers all had English as a first language."
I got in my suitcase and set about the business of filling a vial with cocaine. Jane turned on the TV and located a channel playing Tiny Tunes Adventures. Bekka called the cab company, and then went to refurbish herself at the bathroom mirror. At 4:30 we went down to the lot to wait for Luxor cab, which pulled in the driveway moments later. I hopped off the trunk of the Cutlass, ground out my cigarette, and got in the front seat of the taxi, the girls occupying the back. We had him drop us at Filbert and Kearney, so we could walk up to Coit Tower.
After hanging around the park and digging the view for a while, we walked back down Filbert to Genoa Pl. and Ivanka's apartment. She didn't rent, she owned. She had a two-unit building, her occupying the smaller unit. She came about this as the result of nearly being raped by the property management rep when she first got the place. Her boss's lawyer explained to the property management company that it would be cheaper and less of a headache in the long run for them to settle out of court, essentially gifting her the two units rather than the company's name being further dragged through the mud as employers of rapists. Now Ivanka had a free place to live, as well as rental income from the two-bedroom unit. Add in what she made as a stripper and she was doing quite well. She was saving up for an immigration attorney, so she could get as much of her family out of Romania as possible.
Ivanka squealed and tightly hugged all three of us in the doorway. She looked at Jane and said, "She iss beautiful," in her accented English. "Please, come in, would you like a beer? Ginny is not here yet, she should be soon. I worry about her riding when it is dark."
"Don't worry, she's a pro," I said meaninglessly.
"But it is others who make me worry. Ginny is sure that a taxi will kill her, if anyone. She hates the taxis. She would prefer I not use them, but I have no option. I use the taxis at night when I am tired and am carrying cash. They are a necessity."
"Why does she hate cabs?" asked Jane.
"Because them and her spend all day competing for the same turf," I said. "Cab drivers probably view messengers as slow and frail, messengers view cabs as lumbering bullies. I imagine just the contrasts in personalities and social tribes would mean the two groups will never get along."
Just then the door clattered open and a sweaty blonde lesbian appeared. She had a bicycle over her shoulder (so as to not track up the carpet), her Zo bag across her back, and a two-way radio attached to the strap. Upon seeing us, she smiled and set the bicycle down so she could hug us. Ginny and Jane were introduced, Ginny commenting, "She's a cutie. Where did you find her?"
Bekka said, "We first found her in Florida, then she magically appeared on our front porch, so we decided to keep her. Now she's a junior in high school, and aiming for college, UC Berkeley to be precise."
"High powered school," commented Ginny.
Jane asked her, "Is it true you hate cabs?"
Ginny said, "Why do you ask?"
"Well.... Isn't that like hating gumball machines, or lamp posts? They're only objects."
Ginny gave a grim smile. "It's not the taxis themselves I hate --- and I don't think I truly hate them, more of a severe dislike --- it's the operators, the drivers. They're incompetent, they're arrogant, and they think they own the road. Okay, imagine that a couple times a week you nearly get hit by a car, and while it's always a different car, the car is always green. After a while you'd start to assume that anyone who drives a green car is a dangerous fool, and you'll treat all green cars with distrust. That's how I am with cabs. Deep down I know that not all cab drivers are homicidal nuts, but I've had so many bad experiences with cabs that I assume there's gonna be an asshole driving the damn thing. I'm vulnerable on the road, and I need drivers to take that into account. Taxis don't seem willing to."
Ivanka distributed bottles of Rolling Rock around. Ginny went down the hall to change into a fresh shirt before we went to dinner. I put out lines of coke on the kitchen counter, to the appreciation of all. Then we walked down Filbert to Washington Square and a tavern across the street.
Over drinks --- as always, Jane was served --- I asked Ginny for more details about the club we'd be going to the next night. Like, should we drive, or take a cab all the way to Berkeley, or rely on BART and public transportation?
"You may as well drive," she said. "It's in a sort of industrial area, so there's parking. BART shuts down at midnight, so you'd miss most of Chromewagon's set if you took transit. And a cab would be expensive, all the way across the bay. What are you driving, that big Plymouth you guys have?"
I sipped my scotch. "Actually, we're in Jane's car right now. It's a '71 Cutlass that goes like hell, we had some fun on I-5 coming up here...." I told of our little road battle with Bob Gentry. "I think the bastard was genuinely dismayed that we gave him a run for his money. So just what is this club like, anyway?"
Ginny smiled. "It's chaos. There are very few surfaces that aren't covered in marker or spray paint, including the toilet seats. It's run by punk rock kids who volunteer to work there. They insist you buy a yearly membership, but that's only two bucks, and shows are five dollars. It comes down to you guys being able to see five bands for seven bucks. If you want to drink, there's a liquor store three blocks up, and plenty of places to hide in the neighborhood while you kill your beer. Be careful, there's always kids looking to spot for beer hanging around, and if the clerks catch you, they'll throw you out.
"Tell you what, why don't we car pool over? We'll take one of the cars, grab something to eat from McDonald's, then hit the liquor store for drinks. I know a good place we can go to suck on a bottle. We can walk around a little and show up in time for the first band, that's at 8:30. Doors open at eight. I know you and Jane will dig the place, it's punk rock heaven. It's truly unique."
A local with a mild buzz recognized Bekka and came over for an autograph. Bekka smiled demurely and obliged, signing the back of a coaster. Ginny said, "That's another thing. Bekka, you may not know this, but you're popular with Bay Area dykes. Depending on how known it is that you're there, you're probably going to have chicks asking for your autograph all night. If you want to be left alone, you may want to, I dunno, do something different with your hair or something. Depends on how well you handle having dykes asking if you want to go get a drink. I've told some of your girl fans that you're straight and married, and they think that means it's up to them to rock your world. Becky Page is a popular girl."
An idea struck me. "Bekka, I just had a thought. We need to put out another compilation video. Put all your girl/girl scenes onto a single tape, going back to when you were twenty, and culminating with your scene with Rio from 'Bewitched.' You know your fans will buy it, and apparently we have an untapped market around here. We should give the people what they want."
Bekka shrugged. "If we do that, we're pulling the girl/girl scenes from my features, and filling in the rest of the time with stuff from the loops. You know I'm embarrassed to see my old stuff available. At least the features are watchable."
"Ooh, do it!" said Ginny. "I'll buy a copy."
"Please excuse me," said Bekka, and punched me in the arm.
"The hell was that for?" I asked.
"You're thinking about work, and you're on vacation. Stop it."
"From the sounds of things, we'll both be thinking about work tomorrow, whether we like it or not. So are you going to try to arrange your hair different for tomorrow night? Try to go incognito, and only introduce yourself to a select few?"
Bekka sighed. "Because of the way it's cut, I don't really have any options for adjusting my hair. I've got the bangs, and I have it buzzed short in back. No, I'll be providing fan service tomorrow night. At least the number of people asking to marry me will be that much lower. And I can't lie, the attention really is kind of cool. People are so stoked to meet me, and I'm damned if I know why. I'm just Bekka, another trendy bitch from Encinitas. I'm really not that interesting a person."
"No, but people build a persona around you," I pointed out. "Remember that dude from Seattle who drove all the way down to see you? He had created one hell of a persona for you, and just based on your movies and magazine spreads. You might be five foot eight, but you're still larger than life to your fans. Don't worry, between the four of us and the bouncers at this club, we can protect you."
Ginny said, "Lenny, you're probably going to be the target of a lot of dirty looks, once it's learned who you are. You'll be crushing a lot of fantasies by your very existence. They can handle Bekka as their bisexual fantasy girl, but won't appreciate reality intruding in. You'll be a spoiler."
"I'll grin and bear it," I said. "The ladies will have to accept me as I am. Shit, at least Bekka didn't marry some sleazy industry type. I'm still just a punk. A successful punk, but a punk just the same."
"My favorite punk rock boy," said Bekka, leaning against my shoulder.
"Straight romance usually makes me puke, but you two work together," said Ginny. "Maybe it's the guns."
Ivanka punched Ginny in the arm. "They are sweet," she said.
"They are," Jane concurred.